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THE HUNGRY GENE by Ellen Ruppel Shell

THE HUNGRY GENE

The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin

By Ellen Ruppel Shell

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-87113-856-5
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

A revealing look at research into the causes of obesity, the drastic measures being taken by some to combat fat, and the tactics of those who profit from it.

Science writer Shell (Journalism/Boston Univ.; A Child’s Place, 1992) opens her account with a gripping scene of a 274-pound woman undergoing gastric bypass surgery, a procedure opted for by some 40,000 Americans in the year 2000 alone. With more than 9,000,000 Americans “morbidly obese” (that is, more than 100 pounds overweight), there are strong incentives for finding the key to the fat problem. Following the search for the obesity gene, Shell vividly portrays some of the scientists involved. She shows how the drive for prestige, patents, and profit affects scientific research and reports on the disturbing connections between obesity researchers and the diet, food, and pharmaceutical industries. She then demonstrates how biology and environment interact in shaping behavior (and therefore bodies) by shifting her focus to Micronesia, where Westernization of the native island people’s diet has produced an astonishing increase in obesity rates, along with diabetes and other health problems. Noting that childhood obesity is most prevalent in countries where advertising on children’s television is least regulated, Shell argues that public policy should encourage healthful eating, and she enumerates a few courses of action to that end. Likening “Big Food” to “Big Tobacco” as a manipulator of public opinion, she faults the industry’s sponsorship of the American Dietetic Association and other influential nutrition groups. Similarly, she calls for separation of the US Department of Agriculture’s food-promotion function from its nutrition-advisory function.

No quick-weight-loss tips here, but a compelling depiction of the complexity and size of the plague of obesity.